UT Centers Increase State Investment Fivefold

KNOXVILLE — Nine University of Tennessee Research Centers of Excellence have garnered more than $150 million in outside funding in two years, university officials said recently.

The research centers, launched in February 2001 with $7.5 million of a $30 million pledge from the state legislature, attracted nearly $53 million their first year, far surpassing a second year goal of $30 million.

“The Research Centers of Excellence program is an innovative and productive investment into the economic development of the state,” UT President John W. Shumaker said. “In just two years, these centers have demonstrated a remarkable return on the small number of state and university dollars that have gone into them.

“Economic development through university research is an important strategic initiative that will create jobs, new knowledge and improve the lives of Tennesseans.”

The nine centers seek to attract at least $220 million in federal funding by 2006. At the current pace, they will exceed that goal next spring, two years ahead of schedule.

The centers also plan to create 1,000 new jobs, and produce 10 to 20 new Tennessee companies.

The Center for Environmental Biotechnology was established in 1986 to provide multidisciplinary training for environmental scientists and solve environmental problems through biotechnology.

Dr. Gary Sayler, center director, said the center’s 38 faculty, adjunct faculty, and research assistant professors across 10 departments have attracted more than $8 million for research to develop systems that combine microelectronics and bioengineered organisms to monitor or eliminate hazardous elements in the environment.

The Food Safety Center of Excellence was established in December 2000 to find ways to destroy or control food-borne pathogens and reduce occurrence of food-borne illnesses, a problem costing an estimated $19 billion to $37 billion a year.

Dr. Ann Draughon, food science and technology professor, and Dr. Stephen Oliver, animal science professor, are co-directors.

Current research developed by the Institute’s food safety initiative has already attracted $4.7 million in federal and private support.

The Vascular Biology Center studies key risk factors for vascular disease, which leads to heart attack and stroke and is the leading cause of death in the United States.

Dr. Lisa Jennings, center director, said the center uses research and clinical studies to hasten transfer of findings into patient care and to improve the quality of life for vascular disease patients.

The center, which collaborates with St. Jude Children-s Research Hospital, the Veterans- Medical Center in Memphis, and the University of Memphis, has attracted more than $16 million in research funding.

Researchers at the Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics study mutations or variations in the human genome, which may cause at least 1,500 diseases including cancer, asthma, Parkinson-s and Alzheimer-s disease.

The researchers are focusing on such key areas as DNA sequencing; analysis of gene mutation; robotics and nanotechnology and bioinformatics, and the organization and analysis of genetic data.

Led by Dr. Dan Goldowitz, winner of a $12.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, the center has attracted $43 million in research funding.

The Center for Disease of Connective Tissue, directed by Dr. Andrew Kang, studies illnesses of the aging such as degenerative joint disease, osteoporosis, congestive heart failure, and pulmonary fibrosis.

Arthritis and musculoskeletal diseases are already estimated to affect 40 million people in the U.S. at an annual cost exceeding $65 billion.

The center-s internationally recognized scientists have attracted $20 million in research funding.

The Center for Neurobiology of Brain Disease uses the latest technologies in brain disease research and molecular biology to improve understanding of brain function and to seek new treatments for Parkinson-s and Huntington-s diseases; stroke; cancer- multiple sclerosis; developmental defects; neurotrama caused by injuries; schizophrenia and drug addiction.

Under direction of Dr. William Pulsinelli, the UT center brings together neuroscientists from seven university departments, including anatomy and neurobiology, pharmacology, physiology, neurology, neurosurgery, psychiatry and radiology.

The center has attracted almost $27 million in research funding.

The Tennessee Advanced Materials Laboratory brings together researchers and the tools they need to gain deeper understanding of chemically and structurally complex materials.

Dr. Ward Plummer, center director, said the center goals are to provide a rich environment for this research to be conducted, a system of recruiting the most promising students and skilled professionals to the field of materials research, and training for the next generation of science educators.

The laboratory has earned $5.5 million in outside grants from public and private sources.

The Center for Structural Biology focuses on better understanding of the networks of molecules in living structures.

Center Director Engin Serpersu said scientific knowledge of biology has grown quickly in the past decades, yet the need for information about complex organic molecular systems has never been greater.

The center has raised more than $5 million in outside funding.

UT’s Center for Information Technology Research seeks to understand, guide and benefit from the immense changes in society wrought by a “digital revolution.”

Dr. Jack Dongarra, center director, scientists at the center study the latest devices and techniques for creating, manipulating, transporting and storing digital information, and linking computing devices to produce phenomenal amounts of raw computing power.

About $20.5 million has been raised from outside sources including private and public institutions and research foundations.